Kenya is situated in the East of Africa and has an area of approximately 580,000 km₂. It is bordered by Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Tanzania. The population of Kenya is estimated at 41,070,937. The total female population is estimates at 20,596,278 (50.15%) The rate of infant mortality in Kenya is high, 52.29 births in 1,000 result in the death of an infant
Although there are still many gender related challenges facing the country, a few strides in form of policy developments and enactment of key legislation have been undertaken in the recent past geared at gender equality and protection. These include the Sexual Offences Act; the passing of Gender Policy Bill and a Presidential Decree of 30% affirmative action in terms of formal appointees to public posts. The country is also committed to international conventions such as Millennium Development Goals, Education for All, and CEDAW. Although most issues that affect women and girls are addressed in several legal frameworks, only a few legislations have been enacted. This is attributed to delays in debate, long legislation processes and limited commitment to ensure that legislation that give women equal opportunities in society are given parliamentary priority.
Wezesha links in Kenya
In January 2010 Wezesha held three focus group discussions with women from Majengo slum in Nairobi. The meeting that also acted as education and awareness raising brought seventy-two women together where they discussed women reproductive health and Gender based violence. Six young women in the group had dropped out of school due to lack of resources of which three were placed back to boarding school with support from Okuda Kenya, an Organisation initiated by Wezesha following focus group discussions with women and that became Wezesha local partner in Kenya. Wezesha director worked with Okuda board members in developing a work plan for the group and in 2011, Okuda Kenya was supported by Wezesha directors with the planning and organising for a conference entitled: “Vote for Peace, Stop Gender based violence now”. One hundred and twenty people attended this conference held in Majengo, Kenya. The women in Kenya identified small enterprises as a major and powerful means to combat poverty with the support of Wezesha a mapping exercise was conducted in 2012 to assess existing income generating activities run by women in Githurai 44. On the outskirts of Nairobi, Githurai 44 is one of the largest growing slums, with a population of about 500000 people. Women account for 50% of the total population, making a living below $1 per day. Without adequate education, most operate small businesses, with 80% involved in hawking, which includes selling stationeries, sweets, fish and other foodstuffs. The derived income is small and ranges from Kshs500 and Kshs3000. The objectives of the mapping exercise were to determine the socioeconomic characteristics of respondents, the obstacles experienced by women participating in income generating activities and to enable OKUDA to offer the support and measures needed to improve income generating activities. Those assessed stated that business income is inadequate to meet their monthly needs, which include paying for their children’s schooling, rent, food and boosting their stocks. The key challenges identified were a lack of capital for their businesses and a high price of commodities due to inflation.
The aim of the field visit in 26th April to 10th May 2013, by Wezesha directors Salome Mbugua and Egide Dhala, was to support Wezesha’s partner projects in Kenya. Besides visiting the slum of Majengo and meeting with women’s groups in the area, which included technical meetings with Okuda’s board and FIDA Kenya, the major component of the field visit was the one day conference on “Promoting Economic Empowerment of Women, Overcoming Barriers”, which was organised in partnership with Okuda. The objectives of the conference were to provide a platform for the sharing of experiences of women running small businesses, to explore and identify the main challenges to women’s economic participation, to develop strategies to overcome them and to discuss an action plan promoting policy recommendations for the economic participation and empowerment of women.
Three groups attended the conference on economic empowerment, the Majengo Pumwami, Okuda Githurai 44 and Okuda girls, which was sponsored by Wezesha. A total of 104 people participated, and topics included current work being done by Okuda, sustainable activities, entrepreneurial development, economic independence, the socioeconomic status of women, the lack of access to credit and the role of diaspora for global development.
During this visit, the team also met with FIDA Kenya, the International Federation of Women Lawyers. Wezesha felt that it was important to make a link with this organisation, since it mainly supports female victims of gender-based violence with free legal assistance. Wezesha suggested that Okuda would network with FIDA for legal assistance on issues of violence against women, and FIDA agreed to act as a referral point for Okuda members.
The team also met with five members of Okuda at the FIDA office, and they discussed the work of the organisation since it was established. The Okuda members highlighted the challenges faced, which included a lack of financial resources to assist women with a microfinance project in Githurai 44. In addition, regarding the education of girls, the group reported that most girls in the community were unable to complete their education due to a lack of school fees. However, Okuda has so far assisted three girls with school fees and hopes to access scholarships to support more girls. Okuda members also felt the need to initiate a community development project in Majengo that would be supported by the establishment of a community centre, which would provide different social services. During this discussion, the Wezesha team invited their colleagues to revise the concept of Okuda and its strategic plan in order to be more effective in their actions. However, Wezesha delegates felt that Okuda expectations were behind the vision of the organisation and the community development model. At the conclusion of this meeting, Wezesha also handed symbolically small contribution to Okuda in support of the microfinance project with women in Githurai 44.